When people share similar values and are the kind of folks who like to put new ideas into practice straight away – then the idea of working together on a project soon leads to action. Such was the case with Wildling Shoes founder Anna Yona and Lisa Jaspers, who founded FOLKDAYS, a label for contemporary fair fashion from around the world.
Together they’ve launched a cooperative project with craftswomen from Kyrgyzstan. This has given rise to the limited collection centered around the new model Aigul, the shoe made from hand-woven and traditionally dyed fabric from Kyrgyzstan. Aigul is accompanied by a tote bag and a belt made of the same material. In the interview, Anna and Lisa talk about the values that inspire them and about why each Aigul is unique.
You both started your own businesses. Would you say that women founders do things differently than men?
Anna: I think there are a lot of areas where things are done differently. But does that have something to do with gender or with something else entirely?
Lisa: It involves the very deeply rooted alpha culture characterized by entrenched hierarchies and very few co-determination processes. There are both men and women who dislike this way of doing business and don’t feel comfortable with it. But I do have the impression that women are more likely to permit themselves to set up their own business differently because they feel even more uncomfortable in the conventional system.
If you could change or conjure away one thing about the fast fashion industry right now, what would it be?
Anna: I would like to see the real costs factored in to the price, and that includes the social and environmental costs. I think that would mark the end of the fast fashion industry.
Lisa: One topic I deal with quite a bit is overconsumption and fulfillment – checking in with yourself and determining what you need to live a fulfilled life and not using shopping to fill an inner void. Until we work on this, we will always consume too much. And that will mean that we will continue to exceed the planetary possibilities, no matter how sustainably the products are ultimately produced.
What was your intention in working together on a limited edition collection?
Lisa: One aspect that troubles me immensely is that the value chains are set up in such a way that essentially all the money is made in the Global North, when in fact most of the value is created in the Global South. We wanted to find a way to keep more added value in Kyrgyzstan and to create a situation in which local people would earn more from it than from simply exporting the raw material.
And that’s how you arrived at handicraft?
Lisa: Right. That’s one of the reasons why handicraft and really quite lengthy and elaborate work processes are at the core of what we do [at FOLKDAYS]. The manual work is what creates value, because it renders each item distinct, personal, and somehow imperfectly perfect.
Together with Wildling Shoes, we have now gone one step further by creating the Aigul collection, by working only with natural colors and by using cotton that is not only hand-woven, but also hand-spun.
Chances are there is no one in Germany who has ever worn a hand-woven, naturally dyed shoe, especially a barefoot shoe.
Image: Nora Tabel | Wildling Shoes
Those sound like ambitious ideas. How challenging was it in real life?
Lisa: Right from the beginning we came up with the idea of using ikat, a traditional weaving technique from the region. The challenge in doing this was to design a pattern that could be cut in all directions – straight and diagonal – otherwise there would be a lot of waste.
Another real hurdle was figuring out if the cotton was too thick and if we needed a thinner fabric that was sturdier. There was a lot of work involved in the development process, but also a lot of courage on the part of Wildling Shoes to go down this path and create such an extraordinary product.
Anna: And on top of that, we have very high demands on the performance of the textile. It’s going to become a shoe and it’s going to be used a lot – a product like that has to be able to handle a lot. You just have to figure out how to make the material even sturdier and stronger, and at the same time work with it more slowly and carefully in production. For example, all the pieces had to be stamped individually, ensuring that this craft is approached with the proper respect. It’s not a textile that has been made perfectly for shoes. We often encounter this when we work with natural materials – the fact that you also have to meet the material half way.
Who are the people who used their handicraft to create the fabrics for the Aigul collection?
Lisa: Finding the people who have mastered these techniques wasn’t so simple at first. Eventually, we got in touch with a store in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, through the cotton producer that Wildling Shoes is working with.
The owner, Nasyikat Ysmaiylova, specializes in products from all over Kyrgyzstan, with a sharp focus on handicrafts. She also works with Begaiym Mamatova, who is a business facilitator for development cooperation in the handicraft value chain and has many contacts. I contacted both of them. Right away it was very warm, open, and transparent. Nasyikat and Beka then began building a modest production capacity for our Aigul project.
Much of the work took place in the Osh region, in the Chong Alay District in the mountains at an elevation of nearly 3.000 meters. There, the cotton was spun, dyed and woven. Nasiykat's store, the Nomad store, is now also in this region – more precisely, in Osh City, which is also known as the "second capital" of Kyrgyzstan. In the Batken region, which directly borders the Osh region, some of the cotton was also spun.
A total of 88 Kyrgyzstani women were involved in the production of the fabric made for the shoes, tote bags, and belts. Not all at the same time, of course, but spread out over the entire project duration.
Image: Subankulov Sanzhar
How long were the craftswomen engaged in this project and is it still in progress?
Lisa: We started with the first fabric samples about a year ago. For many women, this has been the first time that they have been able to generate an income because the region is very remote and there aren’t really very many opportunities to earn money there. That goes for both the women and the men who live there. I would certainly like to see a continuation of our cooperation.
Anna: For me, there is also a big question: How do we want to redesign work, including work in factories, and can we bring it to a level at which people can really be more human again? I think that is a huge task.
That sounds like a successful collaboration. What can we learn from you through this project and what have you learned from each other?
Anna: There is a lot more potential for fun, for enjoying the work, for achieving excellent results, when we use our synergies, when we share knowledge and when we join forces.
Lisa: When we think in terms of planetary limits, collaboration is the only way we can seriously get to a point of getting back in harmony with nature and ourselves.
Find out more about the creation process, the collaboration with the Kyrgyzstani craftswomen, and of course all the details about the products Aigul, Ay, and Gul on the Aigul collaboration landing page.